The media lately is full of the revelation about cats that a lot of well-seasoned owners have known for a long time -- cats are killing machines.
From "kitty cams" to experts who put the yearly slaughter of birds and mammals in the billions, it's been "discovered" that the feline is not a docile, slobbering pet who collapses in feigned joy at the feet of its master, but a wild beast who tolerates humans for providing a safe place to rest after the carnage.
My parents' generation kept cats for precisely their nature, just as the ancient Egyptians deified and mummified cats for guarding the granaries.
Cats are natural-born killers of rodents, yet for years few owners paid little attention to their efficient disposal of flying things as well. Perhaps they should have, but they didn't let Felix hang around the house all day.
Before litter boxes, cats were tossed outside at night, expected to prowl for the mice and rats that were common 60 to 70 years ago even in my middle-class neighborhood where garbage was dumped in cans out back before the invention of plastic bags, hence a rodent magnet.
Dogs were also allowed to roam around in those primitive times, making the old neighborhood look a lot like Mexico still does.
My parents' tabby Sam (named for a Bing Crosby tune, "Sam's Song," big at the time) would periodically require a veterinarian visit to treat his infected rat bites. Recovered, he'd be back out on the front lines, keeping Sheraden free of bubonic plague.
Despite his battle scars, Sam lived well into his teens, just like my powerful gray tom, Alexi. But, unlike Sam, Alexi was neutered and had his own swinging door that allowed him to come and go as he pleased. Convenient, sure, but unpleasant at times when he brought his victims home, some still wriggling in his grasp.
I was awakened one summer night by the sound of crunching bones. Alexi had turned my bed into a large pet dish where he gnawed on a dead rat.
By the time my heart rate returned to normal, I had the presence of mind to remove the now-ruined bed clothes to the trash and sleep on the couch, as I figured how I could afford a new mattress. Alexi required surgery for rat bites, treatment almost as expensive as a mattress.
Alexi hunted birds as well, often pursuing them in a neighbor's yard. That neighbor, a member of a local conservation group, threatened to shoot my cat, a reaction I found quite out of bounds for a nature lover. I suggested that the authorities would be called if anything happened to Alexi. A few days later, Alexi slipped into the house drenched in turpentine.
As Alexi aged, so did his interest in flying objects, except for the pieces of chicken or shrimp I tossed him. He preferred raw poultry, particularly liver and hearts, to the processed, chemical and grain-laden dry food promoted by veterinarians. He died in his sleep at 20.
A while ago, a letter writer to the Post-Gazette claimed that a cat killed a Cooper's hawk, a large, fierce creature whose diet consists mostly of other birds. Perhaps that Bengal tiger in "The Life of Pi" might have brought down the hawk, but it seems certain that even a young Alexi would steer a wide berth around it. Cats are cruel, relentless slayers, but not stupid ones.
I now believe that we should keep our cats inside or at least restrained outside from time to time, because we cannot change their nature and most of us don't maintain granaries anymore. I would rather have no cat, however, than one growing fat and sleepy on an easy chair covered in hair. And when my current cat, another sleek gray male fast enough to catch an unhappy vole the other day (I got it away from him safely), is no more, I will stay cat-free.
Bob Hoover is a former Post-Gazette book editor who still writes for the paper regularly (email@example.com).